Today I am thrilled to be sharing an excerpt of Smoke City by Keith Rosson with you, as part of the blog tour hosted by Xpresso Book Tours. They are also offering an international giveaway for one $25 Amazon gift card. So be sure to enter after reading!
Published by: Meerkat Press
Publication date: January 23rd 2018
Genres: Adult, Magical Realism
Marvin Deitz has some serious problems. His mob-connected landlord is strong-arming him out of his storefront. His therapist has concerns about his stability. He’s compelled to volunteer at the local Children’s Hospital even though it breaks his heart every week.
Oh, and he’s also the guilt-ridden reincarnation of Geoffroy Thérage, the French executioner who lit Joan of Arc’s pyre in 1431. He’s just seen a woman on a Los Angeles talk show claiming to be Joan, and absolution seems closer than it’s ever been . . . but how will he find her?
When Marvin heads to Los Angeles to locate the woman who may or may not be Joan, he’s picked up hitchhiking by Mike Vale, a self-destructive alcoholic painter traveling to his ex-wife’s funeral. As they move through a California landscape populated with “smokes” (ghostly apparitions that’ve inexplicably begun appearing throughout the southwestern US), each seeks absolution in his own way.
Finally, on a stretch of roadside with the promise of dusk just beginning to blue the carved canyon walls around them, Brophy pulled onto the shoulder. Vale pulled up behind him and they sat like that for some time, the night’s first insects starting to bat themselves against his headlights. Brophy’s brake lights in the dark ahead of him like a pair of sentient red eyes. What is this feeling, he thought. Nothing ever happens the way you plan it. He had fantasized about this moment for years and in his mind it was nothing like this. This was hollow, imbibed only with a sense of inevitability. He shut the van off and listened to the ticking engine for a moment before stepping out, the thin scree rasping at his feet.
Brophy the ghoul. Brophy the Halloween mask. His face was sickly and wretched in the green light from the dashboard, gnarled veins bunched at his temples. Skin stretched tight on his face and bunched loose at his throat, like someone had grabbed the flesh and pulled down hard. Vale wordlessly got in the passenger seat, the door thunking behind him, the night sounds outside immediately hushed. Brophy sat rigid with his hands on the wheel. He had a tiny butterfly bandage above his eyebrow from their scuffle.
Finally, he said, “So what’s going to happen now, Mike?” That drowning, rattling quality of his voice was better, but not by much.
Vale looked down at his splinted hand. “I don’t know,” he said. “I haven’t gotten that far.”
“Do you have a gun? Is that what’s next?”
Brophy rolled his shoulders. A car filled the inside of the Jag with light, moved on.
“You think I fucked you over, right? This is the big showdown. You’ve had this in mind for years. If it wasn’t for me, everything would’ve been wonderful. Your whole life”—he coughed wetly, curling into the steering wheel before righting himself—“like a goddamned music video. Am I right? Am I in the ballpark?”
Vale didn’t say anything.
“Am I close?”
“Come on, Jared. The coke? The crate of booze? The poor, innocent stripper paying her way through college? All that bullshit? You had that contract ready to go. That shit was prepped. You screwed me over.”
Brophy shook his head. “Right. Paying you a million dollars for your work was screwing you.”
“Two or three paintings go for that much now.”
Brophy turned to him then, wolfish, grinning. “Because of me,” he said. He jammed a thumb against his own chest. “You couldn’t even put your fucking pants on without falling over. Drunk all the time. Blackouts. Screwing around on your wife. Your paintings were turning to shit, Mike.”
The thing about Candice cut. “You know what I was doing last week, Jared? Making hot dogs. I wore a hairnet on my beard. Before that I was at a car wash.”
Brophy shrugged. “I don’t know what to tell you. What’s your point? You had a boatload of talent, opportunities guys would kill for, and you pissed on it. Pissed it away.”
“You ruined me,” Vale said, and Brophy’s laughter was brittle and clipped, like gravel flung against glass. It turned into another cough and he pulled a handkerchief from his sport coat and put it to his mouth.
“Spare me,” he rasped. “The hell do you want, Mike?” He tucked his handkerchief back in his pocket. “You want me to say I’m sorry? You want closure? I can’t give you that. I don’t traffic in it, I don’t believe in it.”
“I’m trying to remember if you were always this much of a prick.”
“Get out of my car, Mike. We’re done.”
“I want that contract nullified.”
“Done,” Brophy said. He turned the radio on, some teen pop with bass throbbing like an embolism under it all. “Get out.”
Vale looked at him. “Seriously?”
Brophy’s head jittered in exasperation as he shrugged. “What’d I say? If it’ll get you out of my car. Get a lawyer, draft something in writing, send it to me. First rights to your shit from here on out are yours. Starting now. If you ever pull your head out of a bottle and paint again, which by looking at you seems pretty unlikely, you’ll own them. If you want more than that, we can keep it in court for fucking years. Now get out. I’ve got to get home. I’m sick.”
Vale stepped out. The night was warm, crickets doing their thing around them. Brophy took off, the taillights of the Jag painting the canyon wall red until he rounded a turn and everything was full dark.
Keith Rosson is the author of the novels The Mercy of the Tide (2017, Meerkat Press) and Smoke City (2018, Meerkat Press). His short fiction has appeared in Cream City Review, PANK, Redivider, December, and more. An advocate of both public libraries and non-ironic adulation of the cassette tape, he can be found at keithrosson.com.
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I would like to thank Xpresso Book Tours & the author for allowing me to participate & providing the excerpt.